In life, we’ll inevitably come across difficult people who make us feel frustrated, upset, confused or helpless. How can you understand human behavior, make sense of others and your own emotions/actions? Human nature (the way we act instinctively) comes from the way our brains are wired after millions of years of evolution. Through an extensive study of literature on psychology and philosophy, Robert Greene explains the 18 laws of human nature to help us understand why humans behave the way we do. The insights will help you to become a better judge of character, manage your thought patterns, empathize with others and motivate/influence them more effectively. In this free version of The Laws of Human Nature summary, we’ll briefly outline these 18 laws.
The Laws of Human Nature
We’ll now introduce all 18 laws of human nature, and take a more detailed look at 2 of them. For the full mojo on the remaining laws, do get a copy of our full 23-page summary. [Note: some of the laws have been paraphrased slightly for clarity.]
1. LAW OF IRRATIONALITY: Master Your Emotional Self
Humans think that we’re rational and in control of our lives, when in reality we’re driven by irrational emotions. We’re often guided by our emotional impulses—we seek pleasure, avoid pain and do things to soothe our ego.
Emotions and conscious thought are located in different parts of the brain—we first feel an emotion before we interpret it consciously (and often wrongly). It’s easier to think that you’re angry with someone because he’s a jerk, than to admit that you’re insecure and jealous of him. In short, we’re emotional creatures, yet we’re often blind to our own impulses. Become aware of your own irrationality, then train yourself to learn and manage them through introspection and reflection.
BECOMING MORE RATIONAL
To become more rational, incorporate these 3 steps into your life:
• Recognize biases (or “low-grade irrationality”) that distort your perception and responses. These include the (i) confirmation bias (thinking you’re being logical when you’re focusing on evidence to confirm your own beliefs), (ii) conviction bias (defending your views with conviction to drown out your doubts), (iii) appearance bias (thinking you can read people when you’re misled by them), (iv) group bias (thinking your ideas are original when you’re following the herd), (v) superiority bias (thinking you’re better and more rational than others) and (vi) blame bias (avoiding your own failures and blaming others).
• Beware of inflaming factors (or “high-grade irrationality”) which call up certain feelings and intensify them. These may come from (i) childhood memories that trigger strong positive/negative feelings, (ii) sudden gains/losses that bring extreme optimism or pessimism, (iii) extreme stress which causes us to get defensive, (iv) individuals who evoke strong feelings in us/others, and (v) infectious emotions from large groups. Watch out for these factors, detach yourself and contemplate the underlying sources.
• Develop your rational self: (i) observe yourself in times of stress, (ii) examine the roots of your feelings and record your observations, (iii) wait before you respond, (iv) accept irrational people as facts of life (vs taking things personally), and (iv) consciously channel your emotional energy instead of being driven by them.
2. LAW OF NARCISSISM: Transform Self-Love into Empathy
Humans possess the natural ability to empathize and connect with others. Unfortunately, we get blinded by self-absorption. Our sense of self-worth is tied to the attention we receive and the quality of our interactions. The problem arises when we rely on others’ attention and validation to feel worthy and alive.
We are all narcissists to varying degrees. Deep narcissists lack a cohesive sense of self, so their self-worth comes entirely from others’ attention and validation. They tend to take everything personally, demand control and attention in their relationships and are expert manipulators as leaders. Most of us are functional narcissists in the middle of the spectrum. We may slip into moments of self-absorption, but have a strong-enough sense of self to pull out of it. Healthy narcissists have a strong, resilient sense of self. They direct their sensitivity outward—in the form of empathy toward people or focused creativity in their work—instead of inward.
SHIFT TOWARD HEALTHY NARCISSISM
Aim to (i) recognize deep narcissism to avoid being sucked into toxic relationships, (ii) be honest about your true nature, and (iii) shift toward healthy narcissism by developing 4 empathic skills:
• Empathetic attitude: Assume you’re ignorant about people and be truly curious about their point of view. In your daily conversations, (i) set aside your judgments/biases, (ii) stop your inner dialogue and listen fully, (iii) don’t assume you have similar/shared views, and (iv) be open to new discoveries.
• Visceral empathy: Pay attention to people’s reactions, e.g. facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Use mirroring to develop a stronger connection, e.g. mimic their tone or expression, nod and smile as you listen.
• Analytic empathy: gather info about the other person to know them (e.g. family relationships, values, emotional triggers).
• Use direct/indirect feedback to develop your empathetic skills: ask about their thoughts/feelings to verify your guesses, and observe their responses and rapport.
THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE: Other Laws
In our complete version of The Laws of Human Nature summary, we elaborate on the remaining 16 laws of human nature. Here’s a quick overview:
3. Law of Role Playing: See though people’s masks. Become a master at reading people and presenting yourself optimally with 3 skills.
4. Law of Compulsive Behavior: Know people’s character. When choosing who to work/associate with, learn to look beyond appearances. Learn to assess your own character (so you can address the negative patterns in your life) and becoming skilled at reading others’ character.
5. Law of Covetousness: Become an elusive object of desire. It’s human tendency to covet what we don’t have. Learn and apply the 3 strategies for stimulating desire.
6. Law of Shortsightedness: Elevate your perspective. Learn to step back and consider the bigger picture instead of reacting to what’s in front of you. Recognize and overcome the 4 signs of shortsightedness.
7. Law of Defensiveness: Confirm people’s self-opinion. To influence someone, don’t try to show how good you are nor challenge them directly. Instead, use 5 strategies to soften their defenses (by validating their self-opinion and aligning your idea with it).
8. Law of Self-sabotage: Your attitude shapes your situation. Our attitude affects how we interpret and respond to events/people, thus creating a self-fulfilling effect. Overcome 5 constricted attitudes and embrace expansive ones, to improve your circumstances.
9. Law of Repression: Confront your dark side. We all have a dark side (e.g. the selfish, greedy, or aggressive parts of ourselves) that we hide in order to fit in and be liked/respected. Recognize the 7 common emphatic traits that hide a darker side, and use 4 steps to tap on your full range of creative energies and become an integrated human.
10. Law of Envy: Beware the fragile ego. Humans constantly compare ourselves with one another, and deny our own envy/jealousy. Learn to decode and diffuse envy before it turns dangerous. Learn the signs of envy, the 5 envier types, the situations that often trigger active envy, and how to build your self-worth.
11. Law of Grandiosity: Know your limits. Humans want to think highly of ourselves, to the point we tend to imagine our superiority. Learn to identify the signs of elevated grandiosity in yourself and in others, including the 6 common illusions of grandiose leaders and how you can adopt practical grandiosity.
12. Law of Gender Rigidity: Reconnect to your masculinity/femininity. Every human has both masculine and feminine qualities genes, and hormones. Learn to recognize 6 types of gender projections and unlock your repressed qualities/energy to become more flexible, balanced and effective.
13. Law of Aimlessness: Advance with a sense of purpose. Use 5 strategies to overcome in-the-moment impulses to develop a sense of purpose and follow your inner compass.
14. Law of Conformity: Resist the groups’ downward pull. We like to believe that we’re independent and progressive, but we can’t help conforming with our groups. Develop group intelligence by knowing how you’re individually influenced by groups and recognize the dynamics/patterns found in any group, then use 5 strategies to develop healthy groups with an upward pull.
15. Law of Fickleness: Make them want to follow you. We want to believe that our emotions are pure and simple, when we’re actually ambivalent toward most things, including our leaders. Learn to establish your authority with 8 strategies and cultivate your inner authority.
16. Law of Aggression: See the hostility behind the façade. On the surface, people seem friendly and civilized. But beneath the mask, everyone has an aggressive side. Learn to recognize and manage chronic aggressors, counter passive-aggression, be aware of your own aggressive tendencies, and harness 4 positive aspects of your assertive energy.
17. Law of Generational Myopia: Seize the historical moment. We’re strongly defined by the generation that we’re born into. Realize how history moves in cycles across 4 generations, understand how your generation’s spirit affects you, and how/where you fit in the wider generational patterns. Then, use several strategies to exploit the spirit of the times.
18. Law of Death Denial: Contemplate common mortality. Instead of avoiding thoughts of death, leverage the paradoxical death effect–use the awareness of your mortality to make your life more productive and meaningful.
Getting More from The Laws of Human Nature
Ready to learn more about all 18 rules and start becoming better with people? Do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 23-page text summary, and a 31-minute audio summary.
This is a voluminous book that’s organized into 5 sections with 18 laws of human nature. Each law is detailed with at least 1 long story (about historical figures like Milton Erickson, Anton Chekhov, Richard Nixon, Mary Shelley, Martin Luther King Jr., and Queen Elizabeth I), with Greene’s interpretation, additional insights on human nature, and strategies and tips to manage them. You can purchase the book here to dive into the ideas and examples in more detail.
About the Author of The Laws of Human Nature
The Laws of Human Nature was written by by Robert Greene—an American author best known for his books on strategy, power and seduction. Greene attended the University of California, Berkeley, before finishing his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in classical studies. Before becoming an author, Greene estimates that he worked 80 jobs, including as a construction worker, translator, magazine editor, and Hollywood movie writer.
The Laws of Human Nature Quotes
“No two people see or experience the world in the same way. What we perceive is our personal version of reality, one that is of our own creation.”
“We see people not as they are, but as they appear to us. And these appearances are usually misleading.”
“There is a pattern to our life, particularly visible in our mistakes and failures.”
“The most significant indicator of people’s character comes through their actions over time.”
“People of real strength are as rare as gold, and if you find them, you should respond as if you had a discovered a treasure.”
“Dangle in front of others what they are missing most in life, what they are forbidden to have, and they will go crazy with desire.”
“Your sense of self-worth comes from within, not from without.”
“Authority is the delicate art of creating the appearance of power, legitimacy, and fairness while getting people to identify with you as a leader who is in their service.”
“It is only in our awareness that we can start to think of progress.”